All the Watches That Made Us Slaver and Pant at Baselworld 2017

Rolexes, TAGs and three very special Omegas: Oh my.

By Ed Estlow

 
Basel 2017
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30 March 2017

Baselworld, 2017 Edition, is due to wrap today, March 30th.

But after Press Day — the first day of the show, when only those with press credentials are allowed in — the cat’s out of the bag and there’s no more new news. So we’ll just wrap up the world’s largest, most prestigious watch trade show now.

For the uninitiated, Baselworld (based in Switzerland) is a lot like the Detroit Auto Show, but for watches. It’s where anybody who’s anybody in the watch world goes to conduct their annual business. The halls are unbelievable: Hall One is large enough to hold three-story pavilions for brands well-heeled enough to afford them. It’s also the place where the brands typically (but not always) introduce their new models for the year. When the curtains go up at 9 a.m. on the first day, roughly 3,000 journalists play an odd game of musical chairs as they frantically run from pavilion to pavilion to see what’s being introduced.

Following that, they get down to the serious business of meeting with brands and getting the first opportunity to fondle the new goods.

And what new goods were there this year? Interestingly enough, 2017 was notable for being a high-profile anniversary year for several iconic models.

Rolex’s Sea-Dweller turns 50 this year. And to celebrate, Rolex bumped the size 3mm (to 43mm) and added a cyclops over the date window. The Sea-Dweller and its big brother, the Deepsea, had been the only Rollies with a date function that didn’t have the signature date magnifier. Now the SD looks even more like its parent, the Submariner. The new Sea-Dweller rings the cash register at $11,350.

Meanwhile, over at Rolex arch-rival Omega’s pavilion, it’s the 60th anniversary of that racing watch-turned-space explorer, the Speedmaster, and its brethren, the Seamaster and Railmaster. What Omega has done is reproduced the 1957 models almost exactly, including the dimensions. The biggest external difference is the clasp. Internally however, a lot has changed with the use of modern movements.

The new pieces are available individually in limited editions of 3,557 pieces each (or in a matched three-piece set), and only 557 of these sets will be available. In the case of the Trilogy sets, the dials are signed “Trilogy” and marked with the set number. Individually, the Railmaster runs $6,800, the Seamaster is $7,000 and the Speedmaster will set you back $7,250. The Trilogy set tips the scales just over $21,000.

Then there’s the new Tudor Heritage Black Bay Chrono. Which is not so surprising, as Tudor has been massaging and extrapolating the Black Bay for a few years now. What is surprising is the chrono is the love child of Tudor and Breitling, the two having collaborated to develop the movement.

Possibly the best news to come out of Basel this year is the new Autavia from TAG Heuer. Everybody calls them ‘TAG’ without realizing the acronym is for the Arabian holding company that once owned Heuer. The good news here is this watch is really a throwback to the original Heuer, and all its racing heritage.

The new reference is a design chosen by the public, who got to vote on their favorite of the original designs from the 1960s. The original was worn by Formula 1 champ Jochen Rindt. The new piece is 42mm vs. the original’s 39mm – and is a worthy update to the classic. Even better is the price of the watch: on a leather strap, it's just short of $5,000. Scratches every itch I have.

Of course, there was a lot more to see in Basel: Blancpain released their Fifty Fathoms Tribute to Mil-spec (see above; one of my associates called it “perfect”), Breitling came with a new rose gold Navitimer Rattrapante (split-seconds chronograph) and Oris went back in time further than most with their Art Deco-inspired Big Crown 1917.

But for this reporter’s money, after seeing the pieces discussed above from Rolex, Omega and Heuer, the show’s over. A guy might as well head to the bar across the street.

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